Faulty landing gear springs led to crash of B-2 bomber last year, report says

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The Spirit of Georgia B-2 bomber after coming to rest in a grassy area east of the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Sept. 14, 2021. A mechanical failure caused the landing gear to collapse left, causing the left wing to contact the runway and damage parts of the aircraft’s left side. (US Air Force)

Worn springs in the landing gear caused a B-2 Spirit bomber to crash on the runway last year at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, according to a recently released investigative report.

The B-2, assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing’s 393rd Bomb Squadron and known as the Spirit of Georgia, was extensively damaged in the September 14 crash. Both pilots escaped unscathed.

Preliminary estimates put the cost to repair the B-2 at a minimum of $10.1 million, although the final cost is yet to be determined, according to the Air Force Global Strike Command report, which was released Thursday.

The Air Force said the bombers cost about $2 billion each, making the B-2 Spirit one of the most expensive planes in the world.

The landing gear lock link springs did not maintain sufficient pressure to prevent the plane’s left main landing gear from folding in on itself when the plane touched down, according to the report.

This spring failure and the resulting collapse of the landing gear was the primary cause of the crash, Air Force Col. Robert Cocke, chairman of the board of inquiry, wrote in the conclusion. of the report, dated 12 January.

A satellite image screenshot shows a B-2 Spirit bomber, known as the Spirit of Georgia, surrounded by first responders and maintenance personnel in the grass off the flight line at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Sept. 14, 2021. The stealth bomber suffered an in-flight malfunction due to faulty landing gear springs and skidded off the runway.

A satellite image screenshot shows a B-2 Spirit bomber, known as the Spirit of Georgia, surrounded by first responders and maintenance personnel in the grass off the flight line at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Sept. 14, 2021. The stealth bomber suffered an in-flight malfunction due to faulty landing gear springs and skidded off the runway. (Google Maps)

Investigators cleared Air Force maintainers and found no evidence of pilot error by the two-man crew. Pre-flight inspections were carried out properly and the two active-duty pilots were fully qualified, physically fit and medically cleared to fly, according to the findings.

Since 2018, an evolution of maintenance procedures has required the replacement of springs during scheduled maintenance of the depot. Stealth bombers undergo this extensive maintenance approximately every nine years.

The Spirit of Georgia last went through this process in 2014, long before a spring change was made mandatory. After the inspection, the original springs were reinstalled.

Investigators found no evidence that the springs were ever replaced. The failing parts remained intact for at least a decade, according to the report.

A post-crash analysis of failed components by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio showed that the springs produced about 11% less tension than they should have. , clearly outside established tolerance levels., according to the report.

Additionally, investigators found that metal fatigue-related “microcracking” in hydraulic connections using shape-memory sealing components led to disconnection of a tube and rapid loss of hydraulic fluid.

Shape memory fittings, commonly referred to as CryoFit fittings, are used to seal hydraulic or fuel tubing and lines in confined areas where welding and brazing with bulky equipment is difficult.

This resulted in a loss of pressure that prevented the hydraulic system from helping the landing gear stay extended and locked, investigators said.

There have been eight previous instances of the B-2’s landing gear hydraulic systems failing in flight twice. However, none of these failures resulted in the landing gear collapsing.

Immediately after the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration announced a temporary flight restriction around Whiteman Air Force Base. The unusual announcement caught the attention of aviation trackers, leading to the first news reports of the crash.

The B-2A Spirit can deliver conventional and nuclear munitions. Its stealthy radar evasion features are designed to allow the two-person crew to penetrate enemy airspace and eliminate heavily defended targets.

Aerospace manufacturer Northrop Grumman built just 21 of the stealth bombers between 1988 and 1997. After a 2008 crash in Guam and the most recent in Missouri, only 19 remain in service.

With the expected arrival of the B-21 Raider by the mid-2020s, the successor to the B-2, it remains unclear whether the Air Force will choose to repair the Spirit of Georgia or put it scrapped for parts for its remaining fleet.

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